Regardless of how you feel about social distancing, it will make office workers far more productive than they were before the pandemic. How? By reducing, or even eliminating, three huge productivity sinkholes:
1. Fewer useless meetings (16 percent productivity gain)
A recent study conducted by Atomik Research for the software firm Mavenlink revealed that "meetings are universally loathed, with between 41 percent and 50 percent (depending on the age of the respondent) of office workers identifying "too many/unnecessary meetings" as a serious productivity killer.
Enter social distancing. Since in-office workers won't want to hang out as much in conference rooms, and more will be working from home, there's less incentive to drag people into meetings that are of questionable value. According to a recent MIT study, the average worker spends approximately 16 percent of the day in useless meetings.
2. Fewer workplace distractions (15 percent productivity gain)
Respondents to the Mavenlink study identified "chatty co-workers" as another huge productivity sinkhole. This response is likely a proxy for the noise pollution inherent in the open-plan office environment, where the biggest distraction is overhearing co-worker conversations, to which you must pay partial attention lest they edge into something relevant to your job.
Many companies will be installing "safety screens" that, in addition to protecting workers from the spread of contagion, also have the unintended but beneficial consequence of reducing noise pollution. On the basis of several studies, it's estimated that companies pay an average "productivity tax" of 15 percent when they implement an open-plan office.
3. Less commuting (13 percent productivity gain)
The recent quarantine and shelter-in-place protocols have shown even the freakiest of management control-freaks that companies needn't dissolve into chaos when everybody in an organization works from home. Because social distancing makes high-density office areas impractical, many if not most companies will continue to allow employees to work from home rather than double or triple their floor space.
More WFH means less commuting, which is time dedicated to work where very little productive work gets done. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, the average commuter spends about an hour a day on the road. That's roughly 13 percent of the time that worker spends doing work-related activity.
Potential Productivity Gain: 44 Percent
Implementing social distancing will potentially increase overall productivity in the average office workplace by a whopping 44 percent. That's the equivalent of adding 110 workdays to the year or, put another way, if you employ 100 office workers, you'll be getting the equivalent of 44 extra workers, at almost no cost.
But here's the kicker: As The New York Times just pointed out, allowing employees to work from home and creating a quieter and more private workplace will result in happier workers, which means they're more likely to remain engaged and even get more oomph (for you and for them) out of every hour that they work.